28 January 2016

Due to improvements in diagnosis and treatment, patients who have undergone cancer therapy are living longer than ever. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are approximately 15.5 million people living in the United States who have been treated for cancer, and that number is likely to increase.

Cancer survivors not only cope with the normal effects of aging, but their long-term health is impacted by the cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted agents including hormonal therapy. Healthy lifestyle behaviors can help to reduce the risk of chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and more. Healthy behaviors may also help reduce the likelihood of cancer recurrence. So how well do cancer patients take care of themselves?

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma evaluated data from a national health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control known as the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. They evaluated data from approximately 400,000 patients without a history of cancer and approximately 47,000 patients with a history of cancer.  The researchers found that US cancer survivors were not more likely than the general population to engage in all healthy lifestyle behaviors. Of current cancer survivors, 16% were smokers, 33% were physically inactive over the past 30 days, 66% were overweight or obese, 5% were heavy drinkers, and 82% did not consume at least 5 daily servings of fruits / vegetables. Rates of smoking, and alcohol intake were better than the average population, rates of obesity and inactivity were worse and the average population and fruit / vegetable consumption was not statistically different between the two groups.

The authors noted that “cancer survivors are at increased risk for comorbid conditions, and acceptance of healthy behaviors may reduce dysfunction and improve long-term health. Ultimately, opportunities exist for clinicians to promote lifestyle changes that may improve the length and quality of life of their patients.”